Publisher: Cabal Comics
Writer: Fraser Campbell
Artist: James Corcoran
Colours: David B Cooper
Lettering: Aditya Bidikar
Release Date: 23rd September 2017 (Thought Bubble)
Fresh from another successfully funded Kickstarter campaign, Bokeh’s Machine is the second instalment of Fraser Campbell and James Corcoran’s mind-bending spy thriller Alex Automatic, and is set to go on sale in less than two weeks at Thought Bubble in Leeds.
For those of you who missed the first issue (shame on you!), Alex Automatic – AKA Alex Anderson – is a highly trained government agent who, as a result of the experimentation carried out on him over the years, believes he’s actually the bionically-enhanced star of a 70s spy TV show. He continually flits in and out of his own delusion, hearing the narration of the show in his head and framing the real-world events in an over-the-top kitsch TV style as the government tries to bring him under control.
With a constantly fluctuating narrative flow which is, as I mentioned in my review of the first issue, almost willfully disorienting, the series so far is like nothing else I’ve read. And this latest issue, which sees Alex trying to take down an twisted evil scientist named Bokeh who has invented a machine that can turn matter into fiction, continues that trend emphatically.
Once again, Jame Corcoran’s stylised and heavy-lined artwork gives the book a pleasingly ‘retro’ feel, inviting comparisons to the likes of Shaky Kane (who fittingly provides a variant cover for this second issue). It feels like the Scottish artist is having an absolute blast playing around in the Alex Automatic TV universe, packing his pages with all manner of crazy spy show camp, from genetically augmented monkeys to strange masked adversaries to Alex’s own bionic enhancements.
David B Cooper deserves extra credit for his work here, particularly when it comes to differentiating between Alex’s delusions and the equally dangerous ‘real world’. Everything is bold and solid in Alex’s imagination, with vibrant colours aplenty, while the reality is a far more muted affair, with the supporting characters all seemingly bathed in pale greys and browns. It’s a necessary distinction that feels a lot clearer than it did in the first issue, and a large part of that clarity is definitely down to Cooper.
That said, as anyone who read the first issue should expect, Campbell still takes great pleasuring in keeping us off balance here, ensuring things are suitably disorienting as Alex continues to struggle with his own identity while attempting to take down the nefarious Bokeh. In a lot of ways we’re left just as confused as Alex himself, struggling to figure out what’s ‘real’ and what isn’t while being continually propelled forwards by the high-concept spy TV show narrative.
Campbell also gleefully ventures into full-on Grant Morrison territory during one particularly memorable scene, with Alex breaking out of his own neurosis in emphatic fashion and further blurring the lines between what he thinks he’s experiencing and what’s actually happening.
Alex Automatic is a difficult comic – and concept – to explain, and it’s certainly not going to be for everyone. It’s unconventional, both artistically and narratively, and its confusing ambiguity and mind-bending narration may leave a lot of readers feeling frustrated and lost. That said, for its target audience (of which I’m unquestionably a part of), it provides a ridiculously unique take on a decidedly played-out genre, and a brilliant showcase of the kind of creativity that frequently goes hand-in-hand with self published comics. Highly recommended.
You can pick yourself up a copy of Alex Automatic if you’re attending the Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds later this month, but if you can’t attend, make sure to follow the official Alex Automatic Facebook Page for all the news on how to get your hands on a copy.